Jan 062011

Here we see a moment of grief: people try to park their cars in suburban streets and, after finding no available spaces, see some designated area without car – ie free - but they cannot park there.  Bummer!

Given the rush – to pick up kids, to take in the shopping, or to cart some appliance recently bought as a bargain, etc, a driver might well rightly feel their personal autonomy has been eroded by Councils commandeering more of the ‘commons’ of street parking.   Here, in protest, someone has written the word ‘+ Residents’ as part of the ‘exception’ to No Parking (which, of course, vitiates the whole point of the sign).

Indeed, this picture shows just one sign. Elsewhere someone (maybe the same person) yanked out two poles with similar signs dumping them by the road.  Road rage at signs, rather than people!

The designated areas are for GoGet cars.  I early on, got rid of my car to use this Car Pool system, which delivers, in effect, a public utility, a public good.  If you need a car, you go online and book it – even for just two hours or for long term trips.  Then, you walk to the designed ‘pod’ in a street – each has signs as shown in the photo. Use the GoGet car card (which looks like a credit card), the doors open and you drive away. Return to pod when finished.   If you have not booked, the car will not start.  A card in the car gets you the petrol.  Petrol is already included in the rental. So you just pay for hours used and/or kilometers travelled and a small membership fee.

Not surprisingly,  a community develops around this kind of utility.   The condition of the cars remains good.  They proliferate as use grow – 9 cars now in Kirribilli, and more can be found in adjacent suburbs. The wide variety of cars from which to chose means: I can use the Tarago for picking up friends at the airport, the Mini for an outing to the beach, the flat top for moving furniture and the stationwagon for picnics and so on.  GoGetters, (should that be the collective name?) report car faults, keep the tank nearly always full, take the cars to car washes and get reimbursed.

As this grows, pods signs continue to pop up and ‘resident’ drivers, with their own car, discover, in the moment of need, ‘spare parking spaces’ into which they cannot park.  Hence the grief.

But flip the problem around and the sheer wonder of the service hits home. I, and of course others, have given up on owning cars. So, in effect,  fewer cars are parked:  more empty car spaces become available.  Of course people remember the few times when all was full (maybe a school function has had parents parking in the area, or New Year’s eve has arrived and Kirribilli has become a Mecca for mobs and their cars).   On seeing a restriction to freedom in a ‘spare space’, that is ‘forbidden’,   the resulting aggravation finds its object in the sign, not all the other cars (of non-residents) that just get to park in the many areas of unrestricted parking.

Behaviour changes too for people pooling their use of cars: lower travels costs.  More discerning use of cars:  I do not now drive to the local shops;  I walk.  A trip to the cinema can include an outing to a restaurant – all at a cost, below that of a taxi fare for the same distance.  Parking, garaging, insurance, petrol – all taken care of.   No surprise then that the service expands.

To overcome the original grief,  of having to drive aimlessly around looking for a car spot, several lines of resolution could be developed:

  • Car pool users can become more socially visible, so everyone can see that what has been reserved for ‘car share’ really means reserved for ‘socially minded residents’.
  • The same software that drives GoGet could in principle drive ‘car share’ systems where people locally broadcast their travel (eg to a shopping centre) and others can book a ride with them – the origianl event becomes social; fewer cars are used; and / or people otherwise house-bound get to go out.
  • Parking spots are valuable assets, they could be monetized, even those in garages.  This could involve a ‘cap and trade’ system where parking spaces are auctioned and can be traded and some enterprising people might then rent access, then the income from the car parking space could pay for the travel. Car travel can be cost neutral – ie free!  Weird, wonderful and compelling.
  • Make CarShare even more attractive ecologically by making the pods ‘electric recharge’ stations so that even non car-pool cars could park in a free car pod there for a booked in ‘recharge’ (of course the car then has to be electric as, I expect, GoGet cars will become -  once the economics of electric cars becomes viable this year).

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